Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
For someone in charge of a landfill, Eldon Wallman sure doesn’t like throwing things away.
"Mostly what we do is waste diversion, not collection. We try and divert as much as possible," he said.
Wallman is the City of Steinbach’s manager of solid waste. It’s a job he’s held since 2005, when the department was split off of public works and allotted four staff. Today there are 15 staff, with six more seasonal workers added in the summer.
Wallman oversees a $3 million annual operating budget that funds the city’s curbside garbage collection program and the Class 1 regional landfill site on Hanover Road East.
A growing list of responsibilities hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for his job.
"I come to work early every day because I love it," he said.
Wallman has made it his mission to gradually introduce diversion programs that, when added together, reduce the amount of solid waste entering the landfill by 20 to 30 percent.
An organics program converts grass clippings and kitchen scraps that residents deposit at community depots into screened compost that’s distributed for free the following year. This year, the program produced 300 cubic yards of compost.
Still, there’s a long way to go. Each day during the summer months, curbside staff encounter an estimated five to seven metric tonnes of bagged grass that could have been composted or mulched.
"The hardest thing on the guys’ backs and on their bodies here is collecting all the grass bags in summer, and on top of that you’re adding to the greenhouse gases," Wallman said. He spent the summer publicizing the tagline ‘cut it high, let it lie’ to encourage more residents to mulch their lawn clippings.
The hazardous waste depot and used oil collection shed (the third and first, respectively, in Manitoba) are also popular diversion programs. Residents drop off everything from fluorescent light tubes to oil paint—enough to fill a semi-trailer every four weeks. A typical used oil collection day can bring in up to 14,000 litres.
A diversion program for appliances and other "white goods" sees about 30 refrigerators per week dropped off to have their freon gas removed.
Tires are recycled into a durable, spongy rubber mulch used around the landfill’s main office.
When a city street is ripped up for utility work, the concrete is trucked to the landfill, where it is crushed and spread on the road that rings the 64-acre site. Wallman calls it "the best built road in Hanover."
Bailer twine and grain bags are also diverted.
"We started that two years ago. I didn’t think we’d collect anything. We take two semi-trailers a summer of stuff out of here," Wallman said.
A mattress diversion program was implemented this year. Wallman said up to 200 mattresses wind up at the landfill each week. A $15 charge covers the cost of sending them to Mother Earth Recycling in Winnipeg.
This spring, Wallman developed a new program for composting spent produce from Steinbach grocery stores. The program’s rollout has been paused while grocery stores contend with the COVID-19 pandemic.
He got the idea for the program from his past career. Wallman spent 31 years in the grocery business, including Penner Foods, before transitioning to solid waste management.
Wallman grew up west of the Red River, around Brunkild, Oak Bluff, and Morris. Back then, the term "dump" was apt. Now, it’s outdated.
"My dad always said, ‘Let’s go to the dump.’ We’d come here in the evenings with his .22 and shoot rats. Today, we don’t have rats, mostly because nature takes care of it."
That would be the bald eagles, hawks, and foxes who patrol the landfill grounds.
"In my 15 years here, I bet you I’ve seen three rats," Wallman said.
After joining the city, Wallman obtained his Manager of Landfill Operations certificate. He now instructs other landfill managers two or three times per year.
In 2010, the landfill was designated a Class 1 regional site. Regulations tightened and visits from provincial environment officers became more frequent.
"As soon as you’re a Class 1 site, boy, the whole game changes," Wallman said.
But the department was prepared for the added responsibility.
"We’ve always been very progressive. We were acting like a Class 1 site long before we even had our licence, and it came out to our benefit, because it just made the transition easier," Wallman said.
Twenty-one monitoring wells scattered around the landfill site to ensure leachate, a highly toxic, highly acidic "garbage juice" that eats the licence plates off garbage trucks, doesn’t contaminate groundwater. Methane gas levels are also monitored.
"We’re very blessed with the site that we have because we don’t need the artificial liners underneath. We have blue till clay underneath us, which is a thousand times less permeable than those liners are," Wallman explained.
Anywhere from 100 to 140 metric tonnes of garbage enters the landfill each day. Roughly 43 percent of that is generated in Steinbach. The rest comes from the RMs of La Broquerie, Ste Anne, and Hanover, and from transfer stations as far away as Piney and Hadashville.
Steinbach’s population continues to grow, but Wallman said a new landfill site is a long way off. The landfill’s current phase has 12 to 13 years left. A third and final phase will provide another 25 years’ worth of space.
Solid waste collectors visit 1,110 curbside locations every day.
Wallman tread carefully when asked whether Steinbach should switch to standardized auto-bins that can be emptied mechanically.
Public interest in auto-bins has waxed and waned over the past decade. City council last discussed the issue publicly in late 2016.
"There are upsides to both ways of collecting," Wallman said. "It’s clean and it’s efficient, but it’s extremely costly."
The city would need to buy 6,000 bins, representing an investment of around $500,000.
For now, Wallman is more focused on public education efforts, which he said have become "the biggest part" of his job.
Wallman normally spends June touring 60 to 80 busloads of schoolchildren through the landfill site. He asks students to put him out of a job.
"That would be the ultimate goal, is not to have a landfill and just divert things," Wallman explained.
"We spend a lot of time with the kids, because that’s our future."
Wallman said Canadian municipalities are beginning to look to Europe, where countries generate electricity by grinding and incinerating their garbage.
"There’s half a dozen different things you can do with waste other than just put it in the landfill, cover it with dirt, and bury it," Wallman said.
Of course, all those diversion programs cost money, but there’s a cost to the old way, too.
"Fiscally, it’s easier to put it all in the dump and cover it. Long-term, you’re shooting yourself in the foot."
Looking ahead, Wallman is optimistic. He’s detected an attitude shift that extends all the way up to city council.
"People are more in tune with the right and wrong thing to do in the waste world."
This article is the fourth installment in a series exploring the work of staff in various City of Steinbach departments.